B.C. salmon decline linked to fish farms

July 6, 2010

Cohen Commission
Suite 2800, PO Box 11530
650 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 4N7

Dear Commissioner,

We are writing to request that you seriously review the role of net-cage salmon farms in the decline of wild sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

The health of wild salmon, including Fraser River sockeye, is an issue of importance to all communities on the coast. Salmon don’t adhere to national borders and are fished by Canadians and Americans alike.

As a natural foods retailer in western Washington with nine retail stores, we have earned national recognition for our sustainable seafood policy. Our customers are concerned about the health and ecological consequences of eating farmed salmon, and we’ve made the choice not to sell it in our stores.

Science has shown that there is a clear link between salmon farms and lice infestations of juvenile wild salmon. Fish farms are ideal breeding grounds for sea lice and drastically increase the number of lice in surrounding waters. Lice easily infect farmed fish because of their high densities and the stress levels associated with crowding. Eighty percent of B.C.’s farmed salmon are Atlantic salmon, a species inherently more susceptible to sea lice than many other salmon species.

While sea lice occur naturally in coastal waters, studies in Norway, Ireland and Scotland suggest that most lice larvae originate on farmed salmon and that densities of larval and adult lice are much higher in farms than in the wild. In one study, wild salmon captured near salmon farms carried an average of 100 lice per fish, while salmon captured away from farms carried an average of 13 lice. Another recent
study, in the Broughton Archipelago, found sea lice were almost 9 times more abundant on juvenile wild salmon near farms holding adult salmon and 5 times more abundant near farms holding smolts, than in areas distant from fish farms.

The collapse in 2002 of the pink salmon run in the Broughton Archipelago is a warning of the destruction caused by salmon farms — one we should pay close attention to if we’re to prevent similar disasters in the future and one that also may explain why 10 million Fraser River salmon failed to return in summer 2009. From an expected 3,600,000, only 147,000 spawners returned to the Broughton Archipelago in 2002.

Analyses conducted by both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council showed that the Broughton collapse was not “natural.” Fisheries biologists, First Nations, other local residents, commercial fishermen and conservationists believe that the pink salmon collapse stemmed from a massive kill of outward migrating juvenile pink salmon in 2001, and was caused by sea lice originating in local salmon farms.

The Broughton Archipelago has British Columbia’s densest concentration of fish farms. Most of the farms are located directly on salmon migration routes. Evidence suggests that juvenile pinks were infested with sea lice during their outward migration, when the threat from sea lice is normally low, because adult salmon are scarce normally at that time of year. The salmon farms made sea lice available precisely when they were most vulnerable.

There are other problems with salmon farming besides the spread of sea lice, including the transfer of other parasites and diseases. Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD) and Infectious Hermatopoietic Necrosis are common in salmon farming. BKD is one of the main causes of death to farmed Chinook and Coho and a serious threat to wild pink, sockeye and chum salmon. As long as open-net pens permit constant exchange of water between the farms and the rest of the marine environment, diseases and parasites will be exchanged between wild and farmed salmon.

Neil Frazer, Professor at the University of Hawaii, after extensive research said, “The main problem with sea-cage farming of finfish is that when practiced on the industrial scale that operators claim to require in order to make a profit, it eventually destroys surrounding wild fish stocks … Nature has an effectively inexhaustible supply of diseases.”

The global fish farm industry also uses millions of pounds of antibiotics annually in an attempt to control diseases — increasing antibiotic resistance and concerns about consumer health. In 2009, the farmed salmon industry in Chile declined by as much as 87 percent from the previous year, due to a widespread virus known as infectious salmon anemia. Experts warned for years that the unsanitary and overcrowded state of the fish farms would encourage disease. When the virus appeared in 2008, many offshore fish farms moved further south, spreading the disease.

The waste from fish farms that flows freely into the surrounding waters is another important concern. Here in Washington state, four salmon farms south of Bainbridge Island off Seattle’s coast allow untreated fish waste equal to 830,000 city residents to flush directly into Puget Sound. The industry pays zero for using our common waters for waste disposal service.

Interbreeding between wild and farmed fish decreases genetic diversity, disease resistance, and adaptability, and escaped farmed salmon compete with wild salmon for food and habitat. Escaped Atlantic farmed salmon have been documented in some 80 B.C. rivers. Mesh cages are notoriously incapable of confining fish and farmed salmon are estimated to leak at an annual rate of 3 percent — meaning some 2,800,000 fish may have escaped from farms from 1996 to 2004.

The impact of salmon farms on the local economies must not be overlooked. More than 80 percent of the B.C. salmon farms are owned by multinational corporations based in Norway, the Netherlands, and Eastern Canada. The benefits of salmon farms to local economies are minimal compared to the wild salmon runs that have supported local economies for centuries. Profits are exported, while the pollution and problems remain.

In investigating why so many Fraser River salmon failed to return in 2009, it would be prudent to consider these environmental disasters already suffered from net-cage salmon farming in B.C. and throughout the world.

We hope your policy decisions and recommendations regarding salmon farms for B.C. and the entire Pacific Northwest will put the health of the environment and local communities first.

Wild salmon is one of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest assets, one worth protecting from the numerous, imminent threats imposed by net-cage fish farms.


Trudy Bialic
Director, Public Affairs

Eli Penberthy
Seafood Specialist, Public Affairs

PCC Natural Markets

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